Ray Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing
Book Review and Commentary February 11, 2016
So, how’s your literary cosmos been lately? Need a boost? Ray Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing was published in 1996, but the wisdom here is timeless. The creative side to writing fiction, the joy, the muse, the long road ahead that Bradbury explores in these chapters will inspire and cheer you.
Bradbury asks, what does writing teach us? “To be alive!” Yeah, and his energy is on every page of this book. Zest, gusto, excitement! He echoes what Stephen King says about writing fast and furious in a heat. Bradbury advises “The faster you blurt, the more swiftly you write, the more honest you are.” No self-conscious writing now; honesty is the key to real stories. He wants us to leap upon the truth.
While Bradbury has written hundreds of stories in some forty years, he states that each tale was a way to finding himself. I really liked this idea because writing is a destination and often times the journey is in the dark. From the tone of this book, Bradbury sounds like he is ruthlessly honest with himself.
His suggestions about creating characters are simple: “Find a character, like yourself, who will want something or not want something with all his heart. Give him running orders. Shoot him off. Then follow as fast as you can go. The character in his great love or hate, will rush you through to the end of the story.” Hot diggity! I love this idea. Let go of all the controls and have fun. Have you ever let a character just move and speak on the page without directing? That kind of writing can be so exciting.
Plot? Oh my, he’d get a big fat F from most traditional writing teachers for this one: “Plot is no more than footprints left in the snow after your characters have run by on their way to incredible destinations. Plot is observed after the fact rather than before. It cannot precede action.” This man totally speaks my language since I never plot my novels in the early drafts.
And then there’s the Muse. This chapter alone “How to Keep and Feed a Muse” is worth the price of the book. Here the subconscious rules, the mighty intuition. This fantastic storehouse inside us is the source of all creativity. What to feed your muse? Bradbury says to read poetry every day. Dive into books of essays. Don’t be a snob though, help yourself to equal parts trash and treasure. And feed your senses; take long walks and observe and absorb. To keep the Muse you must work regularly, work well, and “stay drunk on writing.” Stay alive!
If you are thinking you have to slant your stories for the commercial market or slant it for high literary kudos, Bradbury say both directions are wrong and thwart the honesty of the writer and the truth of the story. He names it a lie to write in such a way aimed at being rewarded by money in the commercial market. It is also a lie for the “self-conscious literary” writer to quill a few paragraphs a day imitating the flourishes of Virginia Woolf or Jack Kerouac. Free yourself of literary cant and commercial bias.
Bradbury believes that “quantity will make for quality” because quantity gives experience. So what’s his formula?
WORK (Hard work will take on its own rhythms)
RELAXATION (Gives rise to deeper relaxation)
DON’T THINK. (Unthinkingness results in greater creativity)
Available on Amazon.com or your local library.
This book is a keeper for me, a book to read once a year to energize and awaken. Bradbury has a thought that is probably a good mantra for any writer …
“To fail is to give up.”
Take a read of this at The Paris Review, The Art of Fiction, Interview with Ray Bradbury
Visit the RayBradbury.com website.
Next on my list, I’m reviewing Jack Grapes’ “Method Writing” which focuses on finding the writer’s deep inner voice and activating the creative process to empower your writing. Can’t wait!
My Recommended List of the Best Writing Books I’ve Read.
On Writing Fiction, A Memoir of the Craft by
Stephen King (read book review here)
Writing Fiction, A Guide to Narrative Craft, by Janet Burroway. All the basics of how to write: the writing process, show vs. tell, characterization, fictional atmosphere and place, story structure and plot, point of view, theme, and revision.
Story, Robert McKee
Story Trumps Structure, Steven James
The Fire in Fiction, Donald Maass
The Art of Fiction, John Gardner (I reread this book once a year, it’s that good)
Making Shapely Fiction, Jerome Stern
The Art of Character, David Corbett
Getting into Character, Brandilyn Collins
The Secret Miracle, the Novelist’s Handbook, edited by Daniel Alarcon
Becoming a Writer, Dorothea Brande
The Faith of a Writer, Life, Craft, Art, Joyce Carole Oates
If You Want to Write, Brenda Ueland
Reading like a Writer, Francine Prose
Elements of Style, Strunk & White
Best Editing Books for Writers:
Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Renni Browne & Dave King
A Dash of Style, Noah Lukeman
The Grammar Bible, Michael Strumpf & Auriel Douglas
Line by Line, Claire Kehrwald Cook
The Careful Writer, Theodore M. Bernstein
Chicago Manual of Style